Baylor BUV in Uganda

Students use engineering skills in a real-world setting.

November 17, 2019

WRITER’S NOTE: The thought of going to a village in rural Uganda with nine Baylor engineering students was a little intimidating. I had traveled internationally before this trip, but I was more concerned about the students, most of whom would be traveling internationally for the first time. Over the next two weeks, I witnessed how our students are not only incredibly talented and smart but they also are invested in others and plan to live their lives to serve.

How it all started

The Baylor Basic Utility Vehicle (BUV) organization is a humanitarian student group led by faculty advisor Dr. Doug Smith, professor of mechanical engineering and graduate program director. The group started as a way for students to use their engineering skills in a real-world setting to build a BUV — a simple, durable, lightweight and low-cost vehicle designed for rugged landscapes and heavy payloads to facilitate communal transportation. 

Because these vehicles can also provide affordable transportation to developing countries, the students involved in Baylor BUV have always dreamt of being able to see their vehicle used in a developing country. 

Seth Emig, president of Baylor BUV and senior engineering major, said it was a dream come true for the organization to build a BUV with and for the people in Uganda. 

“To actually see [the BUV] being finished in Uganda was incredible. I’m very personally attached to this project and to this club because there’s such a good mission with it,” Emig said. 

The idea of taking the BUV to Uganda started with a conversation between Dr. Smith and Bill Baker, a Baylor alumnus and program supporter. Baker learned about Baylor BUV in a mail piece he received from Baylor’s School of Engineering and Computer Science. He had a connection with Village of Hope (VOH) Uganda, a school and home for orphaned children, and thought the BUV would be a good fit for the organization. Through conversations, Smith and Baker determined the best option would be to build a BUV in Uganda over the course of two weeks with the help of the Ugandan vocational students. 

“It was a God thing,” Baker said. “The conversation quickly drifted toward — we won’t sell the BUV to you, we’ll help you build one.”

The Planning Process

Once the decision to make the trip was made in the fall 2017, planning had to begin immediately. The design of the BUV powertrain was developed by a group in the Senior Design class in spring 2018. In addition, the project required a team of students willing to travel to Uganda at the end of the semester. 

Patrick Jaeckle, now a mechanical engineering alumnus, was one student on both the team that designed the powertrain and the team that went to Uganda. Jaeckle played a critical role in making the plans work smoothly together. 

“I’ve built several BUVs at Baylor, but being able to build one that I actually know is going to help people meant the world to me. I became an engineer to help people, and I feel like I actually am through this project,” said Jaeckle. 

According to mechanical engineering alumnus, Hayden McMullen, along with the excitement of planning a project that would truly come to life and help others,  the process also presented some interesting problem-solving opportunities. 

 “One of the big challenges that we had to keep in mind was the ability to design something that could be built with the minimal tools and minimal resources that we had available in Uganda. Additionally, while we were allowed to take two suitcases per person going on the trip, we couldn’t carry all the parts needed to put the vehicle together,” McMullen said.

This project truly was a collaboration among many. While the senior design class was prepping plans and determining what materials would be needed to build the vehicle, Dr. Smith was overseeing the work and communicating with Mike and Janelle Doud — the mission team who live permanently in Uganda at the Village of Hope. Mike worked with locals to find the list of parts needed to build the vehicle while Janelle prepared the places in which the team would stay and helped with travel arrangements. 

Finally, in May 2018, it was time to make the trip to Uganda. With lots of preparation and prayers, the BUV mission team headed to the airport in Houston. 

Building the BUV in Uganda

When the team arrived at Village of Hope Uganda, after 24 hours of flights and a five-hour drive north in the country, they were welcomed with open arms, shown to their new residences for the next two weeks and fed a home-cooked meal.

The next day, the Baylor team quickly got to work with the Ugandan vocational team. The group worked together side-by-side for the next eight days. 

While language differences presented a small barrier, the teams worked together seamlessly. The Ugandan students were eager to learn and try new things, and the Baylor students were excited to teach and work alongside them.

“From the hard work that the Ugandan students brought to the table and the dedication and skills like cutting and drilling to all kinds of measuring and fabrication work and welding, we could see that the skills of others we worked with as engineers are desperately needed to see the success of a project — that’s something our students wouldn’t see in a classroom or lab environment,” Dr. Smith said. “I think a project like this one is most successful when we have what we bring to the table and what our partner brings to the table. We worked hand-in-hand with our Ugandan partner organization.”

Jaeckle said he was surprised to learn new skills, such as cutting metal with a hand saw. 

“That was something I didn’t expect I would ever do,” he said. “The Ugandan students taught me hard work too. They’re some of the most hardworking people that I’ve ever met, and they’re also perfectionists. They wanted to follow our instructions as close as possible and get everything right. That’s a great attribute that an engineer should have, and it’s something I’ve learned from them.”

Perspective-changing Experience

This trip was a defining moment in the lives of the team and an opportunity to live out Baylor’s mission. Not only did the students work hard to build a vehicle for the Village of Hope students to use for whatever needs may arise, but they shared their knowledge, they fearlessly built relationships and now they call the Ugandan students friends.

Emily Susen, senior mechanical engineering major, said the trip helped her grow as a person too.

“I relied a lot on communicating with my dad or my friends, and I was always on my phone, all day every day, before I went to Uganda,” she said. “So having two weeks of not using my phone, having actual conversations with people and being able to sit and think and just take everything in definitely helped me get out of the funk that I had fallen into throughout the past year.”

Every aspect of the experience was meaningful at some point for each person on the trip. Whether it was deep conversation over morning fry bread and homemade peanut butter, learning how to use a hand saw to cut metal, playing soccer, sharing daily stories over communal dinners, worshiping together or praying with each other through challenges and praises every night, the impact of the trip will last a lifetime. 

“I loved my experience in Uganda and I would love to do it again,” Jaekle said. “A lot of other schools have similar engineering programs like this, but Baylor is centered around God, which you can’t do at a secular school. When you come to a village like this, Christianity is a major theme. Being able to have that attribute when you’re doing your engineering project and being able to talk about your faith with other students and go to church services — it’s just a great experience.”


Komakech Geoffrey, head of the Village of Hope motor vehicle mechanics department and director of vocational studies, consistently expressed his joy and gratitude for the Baylor team who came to share knowledge and skills with his students. 

“I appreciated the professor and his team. I liked the way the professor interacted with people, and whenever you felt like you’ve not understood something, it was very easy to approach him. When you approached him, he gave you an explanation,” Geoffrey said. “My appreciation goes to him as well as the entire Baylor University who managed to send him to come and give this project to us. Also, to Uncle Bill [Bill Baker] because he has done a lot to make this thing reach us here. Without him, we would have not been here. I pray for him and I pray that God will bless him abundantly for what he has done.”

On the last day at the village in Uganda, Mike Doud presented each person on the Baylor team with a hand-forged knife as a keepsake. It was a symbol of the level of technology and knowledge the team brought to the Ugandan students. Doud said before the team visited VOH, the students’ everyday tool used for working on various projects was that knife. With the help of Baker, the Baylor team brought over electric saws, a welder and several other tools the students can use from now on.

Dennis, one of the team’s friends from Uganda, expressed his gratefulness for the new skills and technology brought to VOH.

“I’m so grateful for Baylor University for their support toward this program. You are investing new knowledge in us and we are going to use it for the future as we go home with our studies.”